Monday, May 29, 2006

Mrs Socrates

Xanthippe was married to Socrates, the famous philosopher. She had a reputation for being particularly shrewish:
Then Socrates: The question would seem at any rate to be debatable. Suppose we defer it till another time, and for the present not interrupt the program of proceedings. I see, the dancing-girl is standing ready; they are handing her some hoops.

And at the instant her fellow with the flute commenced a tune to keep her company, whilst some one posted at her side kept handing her the hoops till she had twelve in all. With these in her hands she fell to dancing, and the while she danced she flung the hoops into the air-- overhead she sent them twirling--judging the height they must be thrown to catch them, as they fell, in perfect time.

Then Socrates: The girl's performance is one proof among a host of others, sirs, that woman's nature is nowise inferior to man's. All she lacks is strength and judgment; and that should be an encouragement to those of you who have wives, to teach them whatever you would want them to know.

Antisthenes rejoined: If that is your conclusion, Socrates, why do you not tutor your own wife, Xanthippe, one of the most difficult women of times past, present, or future?

Well now, I will tell you (he answered). I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: "None of your soft- mouthed, docile animals for me," he says; "the horse for me to own must show some spirit": in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.

I'm fascinated by her. Did she deserve this reputation? Here she is again speaking with Socrates just before he is about to die:
On our going to the prison, the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out and bade us wait and he would call us. "For the Eleven," he said, "are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die to-day." He soon returned and said that we might come in. On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: "O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you." Socrates turned to Crito and said: "Crito, let someone take her home." Some of Crito's people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating herself. And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch, began to bend and rub his leg, saying, as he rubbed: "How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other.

It seems to me that history has been a little too unkind to Xanthippe. If she was a little harsh to Socrates, that's probably understandable: all that philosophering about the marketplace can't have bought in the money, now, can it?


ras said...

My god this woman gets a bad rap!

wonder what she did?
Could hardly be as bad as some of those other women of that era...

Was it just the men? They thought all women were lesser than men perhaps?
The women who had some character were even less???

Maybe they all preferred each others company to those of their women?

TimT said...

Apparently, she went after Socrates in the marketplace, nagged him, and emptied a chamber pot over Socrates head. Socrates was evidently in a droll mood that day, since he said, 'After thunder, there comes rain.' A formidable woman!

Who knows? I'm very interested in people like Xanthippe, who get one or two minor mentions in great historical records and dramas.

ras said...

Naggers always get a bad rap...I have on occasion been known to nag my partner

Seriously, sometimes its dont get told whether socrates was asked to empty the chamber pots before he walked to the market...maybe she asked him nicely every day to do just that one thing and he consistently ignored her until one day, sick of being taken for granted in her domestic servitude she decided to take action...and the best thing she could think of was pouring the bloody thing over his head.

just a possibility

TimT said...

This is not the only recorded instance in history of this happening. Apparently, in the course of debate, Julius Caesar emptied a chamber pot over his opponents head.

History is a wonderful thing ...

Email: timhtrain - at -

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